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Healthy Weight Center

Is My Child Overweight or Just Muscular?



My grandaughter is 6, weighs 65lbs, and she is 48 in tall. Her mother stated the doctor has said she needs to lose 20lbs. I find this hard to believe, because she is a very strong girl and well formed. She is going to be tall, and she favors her father's build. I have tried to tell her mother that the child has more muscle weight than most children her age, and she is growing like a weed. Is she overweight?


Without actually seeing your granddaughter, it is difficult to say if she is overweight or not. When using the body mass index (BMI) to evaluate her weight, she is over the 95th percentile and does fit into the "overweight" category. However, BMI only compares height and weight. It does not tell us if she is over-fat or over-muscled. As you mentioned, she may be more muscular than other children and this can make her appear overweight. Children who are overweight, but do not have excess body fat do not need to lose weight. 

With that said, professionals usually do not use only one evaluation tool to make their recommendations, so I am assuming the pediatrician evaluated your granddaughter and did determine that she does, in fact, have excess body fat. Therefore, if she does need help with her weight, keep in mind that it is often preferable to have a young children grow into their weight rather than work at losing weight (dieting may have a negative impact on self esteem and, possible, create disordered eating). As the child gets taller, she will slim down and reach a healthy weight over time.
Parents can help by feeding the family healthful foods from all food groups (not treating the child differently than the rest of the family), allowing the child to eat when hungry and stop when full, and encouraging physical activity (make it fun for everyone). 
For more help in this area, look for books by Ellyn Satter. "How to get your kid to eat, but not too much" and "Secrets of feeding a healthy family" are both great resources. For more information, visit her website is ellynsatter.com. A visit to see a registered dietitian (RD) would also be helpful to your daughter. The RD can help identify problem areas in the diet and help her learn how to choose the best meals & snacks for your granddaughter and the entire family.

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Response by:

Jane   Korsberg, MS, RD, LD Jane Korsberg, MS, RD, LD
Senior Instructor of Nutrition
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University